Letters to the Editor 2004-11-13

Tom Cushen


Co. Laois

After the deaths of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Dvorák around the turn of the last century, music was in a state of flux. I could list almost 20 great composers of the 19th century but the truly great composers of the early to mid 20th century can be named on the fingers of one hand. There are only Elgar, Sibelius and Rachmaninov. A little later Gershwin and after the mid-century only Khachaturian. Now admittedly Josef Suk wrote his Serenade and Scriabin wrote his piano concerto and his two symphonies in the first decade. These are masterpieces but aren't the likes of the Asrael symphony by Suk and the Poem of Fire and the Poem of Ecstasy a little tame by comparison?

I would say the same of Debussy and Ravel. Debussy wrote the marvelous Clair de Lune, the Aprés Midi d'une Faun, Reverie, The Girl with Flaxen Hair and for light relief The Golliwog's Cakewalk. Ravel wrote the wonderful Introduction and Allegro, the Pavane for a Defunct Infanta, dawn from Daphnis and Chloe and the slow movement from his Piano Concerto in G Minor. These pieces by these two men show genius but much of the rest of their works are sub-standard. I include Bolero and La Mer in this category.

Technical mastery isn't enough. Most classical performers have it but that doesn't make them great composers. What the great composer needs besides technical accomplishment is a sustained gift for melody. This must inform his every work in its inventiveness.

Stravinsky asked Debussy what he thought of The Firebird. Debussy's wrongheaded answer that you had to start somewhere set this nascent genius onto the path of noise over melody. The resultant work is rubbish. He didn't write the lovely opening to Pulcinella – Pergolesi did. The Rite of Spring has a few seconds of brilliance when the cellos come in thrumming a primitive rhythm. The remainder of the piece is forgettable if not completely cacophonous.

Prokofiev wrote his first piano concerto, the Seventh Symphony and the slow movement from the classical symphony and what else. Trifles like the Capulets and Montagues and the Troika from Lieutenant Ki J. The rest wasrubbish. The slow movement from the Second Violin Concerto has some charm as has a rising scale motif from the Fifth Symphony.

Bartók wrote the two slow movements to his two violin concerti. The rest was rubbish except perhaps for the derivative interrupted serenade from his Concerto for Orchestra. Janacek and Kodaly wrote rubbish.

Shostakovitch wrote the second waltz from his Second Jazz Suite, the sentimental Gadfly romance and the scherzo from his Eighth String Quartet. Fragments of his symphonies and concerti are worth keeping. I can think of a theme half-way through the first movement of the Fifth Symphony and little else.

Meanwhile, Khachaturian was writing masterpiece after masterpiece. Gayannah, Spartacus, the piano and violin concerti, Masquerade, the symphonies and much more which has been temporarily forgotten. In his lifetime, such non-talents as Lutoslawski, Berio, Ligeti, Boulez and Stockhausen were becoming famous. Remember The Emperor's New Clothes? Like that: rubbish writing about rubbish, saying how brilliant they are as they proceed to strangle melody and call it a new harmonic language.

What of Schonberg and Webern and Berg you ask? Surely they are masters? Schonberg showed in Verklarte Nacht and even more so in the prelude to Guerrelieder that he was possessed of genius. Webern too in Langzammersatz. But then they went on to write anti-music for the rest of their careers. I am not against atonality itself, only the messy noise these pioneers made of it. Wagner had proved in the Liebestod to Tristan and Isolde that chromaticism can be beautiful and meaningful. We will have to wait for composers of the future to finish the Schonberg revolution by writing great works of atonalism. Forget serialism: it's a dead duck, even more restrictive than tonality, where you can't repeat a note till you've played every other note in the chromatic scale.

I've always thought of Mahler as a long-winded bore and Strauss as a sometime genius, sometime bore. He will be remembered for Don Juan, Don Quixote, Ein Heldenleben, the start of Zarathustra and the trio from Der Rosenkavalier. Not a bad legacy. Mahler will be remembered for the adagietto to the Fifth Symphony.

Seán ó Céilleachair

Droichead na Banndan.

Co. Chorcaí

I refer to Brian Hanley's letter in a recent issue of Village (6 November). I agree with him that the Kilmichael ambush was "a key moment in the destruction of the morale of the British administration in Ireland". However, I disagree that the opportunity offered by Village for a debate on Irish history would be wasted with what Hanley describes as "a boring and ultimately depressing rehash of Peter Hart's 1998 work".

The facts are that Hart's account of the ambush is inaccurate and untrue. In addition, a number of writers, including Diarmaid Ferriter, who describes himself as a post-revisionist, appear to accept Hart's account of events, stating that Tom Barry killed auxiliaries at Kilmichael who had already surrendered. These unfounded allegations must continue to be challenged.

I now call on Peter Hart to come out of hiding behind the cloak of anonymity and name his sources for the statements he has made regarding the Kilmichael ambush. The reputation of Tom Barry and the men who fought with him at Kilmichael cannot be tarnished by someone who gives a distorted and misleading account of such an important event in recent Irish history.

When the truth has been established I can assure Brian Hanley that there will not be any problem with moving on from Kilmichael to debate other issues that he has raised.

Let me also assure Hanley and others that sectarianism was not in the psyche of the men and women of West Cork who strove to put an end to British oppression and terror.

Fr. John Durkan

Director of the RCIA Achonry Diocese,


Co. Mayo

I want to thank you for highlighting the case of Oliva Ndayishimiye and her two daughters who were deported from Kiltimagh in July of this year.

I was disappointed, however, that the Right of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) was mentioned but an explanation of the group was omitted.

The RCIA group is run by a number of local people who assist adults who want to become members of the Church. I got to know Oliva when she approached me and asked to be confirmed and received into the Church. She also asked that her daughters, Shiela and Chantal, be baptised.

She is a very warm and dignified woman and local people here are very upset at the way she has been treated.

We in the RCIA work with a number of asylum seekers looking to join the Church. These people are gifts from God and we, as Christians, should value the contribution they make to the community.

John Horan

PRO, Comhairle Ceantair Átha Cliath,

Republican Sinn Féin,

Dublin 1

In your article last week on Mary McAleese, (Sapping life from the presidency 6 November), it was stated that she had shaken up the Fianna Fáil hierarchy via Bertie Ahern's shafting of Albert Reynolds in order to ensure she won the party's nomination.

Your readers may be interested to know that Mary McAleese was not, in fact, properly nominated at the 1997 Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting at which a candidate was picked.

Her candidature had no agreed proposer or seconder, despite the then Fianna Fáil protocol insisting that such be observed.

However, the then Fianna Fáil chairperson, Rory O'Hanlon, and the two other contesting candidates, Michael O'Kennedy and Albert Reynolds, agreed to change Fianna Fáil rules to suit Mary McAleese.

I would be of the opinion that such a change of rules could only be made by an ardfheis. And, considering that Mary McAleese won an election in which she was not, apparently, a proper candidate, is she validly in office?

The lady herself has stated since: Either of the candidates could have got rid of me, there and then. They would have been perfectly within their rights to insist that we follow the rules.

Her husband, Martin, who was present at that meeting, has commented: I'm afraid I would have insisted on party rules being obeyed, i.e:, had the shoe been on the other foot.

Either way, I believe the position of President should be abolished, and that the House in the Park should be converted into a House for the Homeless.

And I would have no shortage of seconders for that motion...


Eoin McMahon,

Dublin 4

Almost to a man, woman and media organisation, the entire Irish media have cheerled against George W. Bush in his bid for presidential re-election.

Their basic premise is that he is a stupid, evangelical imperialist and that he is a puppet for sinister neo-conservatives.

The Bush administration, as Vincent Browne, editor of Village, opined last week – singing from the same hymn sheet as that other high priest of the left, Michael Moore – selectively accuses "these imperial ideologues" of now being enabled to consolidate their "master-plan" of world domination with the eventual success of George W. Bush in the presidential election last week.

Moreover, these moral relativists insist that American and global democracy will be further undermined now that the neo-cons and George Bush achieve a second presidential term.

In the last week, since John Kerry conceded the contest to George Bush, there has been quite the most vituperative, smug and superior attitude from those who wanted Bush defeated.

The American support and encouragement for the Israeli administration – where "barbarities will be inflicted on the already devastated Palestinian population" – will be used by the biased anti-capitalist media cohort as proof that America is a selfish and malign force, rather than a civilising one, even though there is now empirical evidence that the Palestinian leaders have been shown to be massively compromised.

The Communist-inspired social engineering projects of the USSR, China, North Korea etc., where the populations were subjects as opposed to citizens, not to mention those countries' imperialistic ambitions, were not and will not be examined in any critical way.

Similarly, the exponential growth in Islam, a religion that has at its core an intolerant and misogynistic base, is absolved from blame due to the fact that it is more socialist than capitialist.

The irony is that these patronising socialist/liberal cognoscenti fail to recognise that the burgeoning Islamic/jihadist leviathan, and its now-superior attitude to the decadent West, is of far greater threat to democracy than a second and final presidential term for the incumbent President Bush.

The message that the liberal and crime-apologising left just don't get is that the majority of the world population are now in unison in their rejection of the "root causes" argument.

No more will the supposed root causes of petty or violent crime or global terror be permitted due to individual, societal or state poverty and/or repression.

The real threat is not to be found in the US, as the incestuous left would have us believe: the real deal when it comes to tyrannical and fundamentalist ideologues is to be found in the ultra-reactionary forces of Islam.


Brian Costello,


Co. Clare

Behind W.'s smirk during his victory speech, I could detect what he really wanted to say. "Elect me once, shame on you. Elect me twice, shame on you."

Brian Hodkinson,

Birdhill, Co. Tipperary

Last week An Bord Pleanála approved the proposed N7-N8 motorway. In doing so it overrode the recommendation by its own inspector that the proposal be turned down. The reason it gave was that the Board did not want to slow down the National Development Plan (NDP). The decision was not, therefore, based on the merits of the proposal.

This is a disturbing development because it effectively means that the Board will automatically accept anything so long as it appears in the NDP. It is saying that the one particular proposal under consideration must be the best solution simply because the NDP states that there should be a road somewhere in the area. This is the criminal-law equivalent of a judge stating that you must be guilty because the police arrested you.

The Board has effectively decided to render the oral hearing superfluous, thereby acknowledging that the hearing, into a done deal, was a sham. It should be remembered that oral hearings are supposedly a part of the democratic process whereby citizens can participate in the decisions that affect them, and also that the road in question was rejected by the inspector because it was not a good project.


Peter Kennedy,


Dublin 13

After ridding Iraq of the British Army in 1916, it must be difficult to see them back in 2004. I suppose as they say at this time of the year – "the sun never sets on the Empire". The slavish memory of Crown, Empire and Colonial Codology, i.e., someone else knows what's best for us, once ignited in some parts of the world tends to have a rose-coloured effect of longing for a better life!

As we creep nervously towards the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, this deep-down longing for the return of Empire, Crown and all, by some small coterie of so-called "reformers", seems to be gradually festering away.

These people cannot accept the will of the majority of the people on this island. The real Reformers on this island are the Good Friday Agreement negotiators and supporters, who wish to see it through, and represent what the people voted for.

However, one only has observe the Northern Ireland talks to realise that Bertie does not care. He got the glory of signing the Good Friday Agreement, but it was his predecessors' initiative and hard work that got it to the table. Bertie and Cowen took their eye off the ball during Ireland's European Presidency.

In Iraq, it is the Colonial countries who dictate things through force of armaments, e.g., F16 jets against old Kalashnikovs. Kofi Annan says not to attack Falluja in the interests of future democracy hopes. Bertie implies that the tens of thousand of US soldiers at Shannon are really nice people!

The heroine Mary Kelly tries her best by solo action to help the thousands of Iraqi people in Iraq. Minister Martin Cullen says that the US soldiers in Shannon are good for local business.

In the past week, the front page of an Irish newspaper was taken up with the massacre of 60 young seals. There was no front page to highlight the recent report that 100,000 persons have died as a result of the recent attack on Iraq.

RTÉ shows leering US soldiers wearing helmets with horns before attacking Falluja. It did not show the 300,000 citizens having to leave Falluja along with women and children, before their city is decimated, with 500-pound bombs.

The Irish Government does not have a mandate from the Irish electorate to allow the selling of Blood Burgers to Blood Soldiers for Blood Money.